CINCINNATI, OH – What a difference a year makes.

At this time last season, the Cincinnati Cyclones were a team on the outside looking in, in hopes of snatching the 4th and final Kelly Cup Playoff spot in the North Division; however, ultimately failed to do so, missing the postseason for just the second time in the now ten seasons the team has been in the ECHL since returning from voluntary suspension in 2006-2007.

Now? Things have a completely different look as the Cyclones, instead of being a team on the outside, are now in the conversation for a Midwest Division championship. With just two weeks and six games remaining in the 2015-2016 campaign, Cincinnati sits five points back of the division-leading Fort Wayne Komets.

Midwest Division Standings as of March 28th, 2016
Midwest Division Standings as of March 28th, 2016

If there is anybody that’s going to be able to compete with the Komets for that top spot, it’s going to be Cincinnati. Obviously, Indy and Evansville are both eliminated from being able to reach the top of the division. Although, there is an outside possibility of Quad City going on a run and being able to knock out both the Komets and Cyclones, however, that would pretty much require Cincinnati and Fort Wayne both to lose out while the Mallards would have to win out.

After a big win over the Eastern Conference leading Toledo Walleye on Saturday night, Cincinnati heads back to home base to prepare for without a doubt, their biggest game of the season, when they will welcome in Fort Wayne on Tuesday night.

This is a Komets team the Cyclones have had some success against this season. Cincinnati is 5-3-1-0 against Fort Wayne overall, and 3-2-1-0 against Fort Wayne inside U.S. Bank Arena. It’ll be the 10th and final meeting of the regular season between the two clubs, and that is why it is so vital for Cincinnati to get this win.

If you like games that could have some big playoff implications, you came to the right place, because this game will do one of two things: put Cincinnati right at Fort Wayne’s back door, or Fort Wayne is going to pull out the stun gun and run away. It is Cincinnati’s final opportunity to catch some ground and get Fort Wayne on their heels as they continue down the final stretch. After Tuesday night, both teams will only have five games left, and it’s much better to be three points back, than it is to be seven points back.

Both teams have struggled a bit as of late. Fort Wayne has gone 5-2-2-1 in their last ten games, while Cincinnati has gone 4-3-2-1 in their last ten. Despite that, I’ve got the feeling this is going to be a real playoff atmosphere type game with a very fast pace, and some hard hitting. Both teams need the points, and they are going to come gunning at each other from the moment that puck drops for the 1st period on Tuesday night.

We’re going to tap into our inner D.J. Khaled for a moment…

Cincinnati’s Keys to Success against Fort Wayne:
1. Need a strong defensive effort in front of Andy Iles. Fort Wayne has a lot of fire power up front with the likes of Shawn Szydlowski, Kyle Thomas, and Garrett Meurs.

Defense has been one of the weaker points of Cincinnati’s game and they have struggled lately, but they need to be firing at all cylinders to beat this Fort Wayne team. (Fortunately for Cyclones fans, former Cyclone Mike Embach is up in the AHL and will likely be unavailable for the game.)

2. Play a full 60 minutes, and get the job done in regulation. Four of the last six games have gone into overtime or a shootout. Cincinnati cannot afford to give up a single point to Fort Wayne.

Fort Wayne’s Keys to Success against Cincinnati:
1. Keep the M&M line under control. The line of former Komet Tommy Mele, Colin Mulvey, and Branden Gracel is as hot as it’s ever been. Between the three, they’ve combined for 20 points in the last five games. (Yes, I call them the M&M line because I’m the king of terrible puns.)

2. Have to have a good start. Fort Wayne needs to set the tone early, and push Cincinnati back on their heals. If you let the Cyclones control it early on, and let them dictate the play, they’re not an easy team to come back from. Just ask Toledo.

It is going to be a good one in Downtown Cincinnati on Tuesday night. That gets underway from Cincinnati at 7:35pm EST.

As always, you can follow me on Twitter (@SinBinCyclones) for live game updates.

MAGIC NUMBER UPDATE:
In terms of the magic number for Cincinnati to clinch a berth in the 2016 Kelly Cup Playoffs, a few things have changed since that game against the Walleye on Saturday. Quad City was initially the team Cincinnati needed to lose to help shrink the magic number, however, they have flip flopped positions in the Western Conference with Tulsa. The Oilers also have a lower win percentage than the Mallards, so the Cyclones now need Tulsa to drop some games.

Western Conference Playoff Push as of March 28th, 2016
Western Conference Playoff Push as of March 28th, 2016

Cyclones currently have 77 points. The most points Tulsa can get at this point in time is 85. So the Cyclones only need nine points to reach 86 and clinch a spot. Same applies to Fort Wayne as they only need four to hop from 82 to 86 and clinch. So, to break it down, every time either Tulsa loses in regulation or Cincinnati wins in regulation, that nine shrinks by two.

It’s conceivable that if Cincinnati does not catch Fort Wayne for the Division title and nothing changes drastically, the Cyclones would either see Allen or Idaho in Round 1. If the Cyclones do catch Fort Wayne and take the division, they’ll most likely see Utah or Colorado in the first round.

Time will tell.

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